I was initially reluctant to see the sea lion show at Flamingo Land, particularly after there has been so much bad press about Sea World in Florida (See this article in Takepart and the documentary Black Fish), and bad press about Flamingo Land itself in the 1990’s. Are sea lion shows cruel, or an essential part of conservation?
As I was at Flamingo Land for my 36th birthday, and as we walked past at 4pm, the sea lion show was just starting, so we went to check it out to report back.
I started to blog about Flamingo Land in my previous article, but I felt that this issue deserved a whole article to itself. Today, I am discussing the ethics of marine mammals and sea lions in particular, being kept in captivity. I hope that I will give a balanced and (hopefully) unbiased view, and that you will support me in sharing this through my blog about sea lion shows.
Are there any Whales or Dolphins at Flamingo Land?
First off, are there any large marine mammals? Thankfully, there are no Whales or Dolphins at Flamingo Land today. Nowadays, Flamingo Land only accommodate animals that they have enough space for according to animal welfare guidelines.
There was a previous dolphinarium at Flamingo Land that was criticised for not being deep enough. In respect of the animals and in order to adhere to UK regulation, Flamingo Land stopped housing dolphins in 1993.
Phew! If only this kind of legislation could be put in place in other countries too. That’s why, although zoo’s aren’t always great, I feel more comfortable with Zoo’s in the UK than abroad.
Do Sea Lions do Well in Captivity?
There is scientific evidence to suggest that sea lions do much better than whales and dolphins in captivity, provided they are not kept alone, as they are sociable animals. They need ample space to swim and they need to be housed with other sea lions.
Needless to say that a natural carnivorous diet and access to veterinary care is essential. It would, of course, be better to know that they are living in their natural environment – a habitat that can hardly be recreated in a zoo.
However, there are also some benefits to keeping some animals in captivity. Sea lions are classed as an endangered species, with many types of sea lion close to extinction. Therefore, housing some of them in captivity is necessary if we want to protect the species.
In the wild, many sea lions are battling with strong currents, and a number of health issues that are causing some members of the species to be endangered.
The Sea Lion Shows at Flamingo Land
We saw the sea lion show featuring Clive (popular with the ladies when they visit!) and it was enjoyable and educational. We also had chance to meet the keepers at the end of the show.
The sea lions were clapping, diving and balancing balls on their noses, and they seemed to be really enjoying it! We were told that the sea lions are not made to do anything that they don’t want to do, and this was evident from the show.
The conditions appeared to be clean and as natural as possible, given that they are in captivity.
Are the Sea Lion Shows at Flamingo Land Cruel or Acceptable?
The keeper was confident that they were in good hands, a good environment and that they were socialised with a good diet. At no point were we asked to touch or feed the sea lions during the show. As for the sea lion encounters, I cannot comment, because I did not take part in this.
The sea lions at Flamingo Land, to my knowledge, have always been in captivity, and could not be released back into the wild, because they don’t have the survival skills necessary. Therefore, if they have to stay in captivity, there are worse places they could be.
There are 3 male sea lions currently living at Flamingo Land and they appear to be happy and have enough room (May 2016). It is more natural for them to swim in much larger groups and it would, of course, be better to know that they are happy living in their natural environment. However, at least they are not alone.
An article from the Humane Society states that…
This brings to question the suitability of such a small social group. However, due to the species being endangered, breeding them in captivity is beneficial to the longevity of the species. It’s essentially the lesser of two evils in some respects.
Are these sea lion shows cruel? I’m not sure that I have enough information and knowledge at this point to make a firm judgement. If there are any marine life experts out there who would like to comment, please share on my blog. I’m happy that the sea lions we saw at Flamingo Land seemed in good physical and mental health.
Are Sea Lion Shows Acceptable?
In the wild, sea lions are very active both mentally and physically, avoiding preditors and hunting for food. In captivity, they don’t have to do this, but as a result, boredom can set in. The keeper and trainer at Flamingo Land told us that by learning tricks, it can keep them entertained.
However, let’s face it, balancing a ball on the nose is hardly a natural behaviour!
One Green Planet outlined the story of a 10 year old boy who got bitten by a sea lion during a ‘swim-with’ activity in Tenerife, Spain. One Green Planet criticised ‘Sea Lion encounters’ for wrongly displaying these carnivorous animals as friendly. In a way, animal encounters and shows like this can send mixed messages to the younger generation.
Personally, I would like to see a move to a more natural environment for the sea lions, but I don’t know how realistic this is, unless they are actually in the wild. It depends on the situation and the destination. I think that it’s difficult to generalise and that we should ask expert opinions on each individual situation or destination. I’m certainly more concerned about conditions abroad than in the UK.
Do I Regret seeing the Sea Lion Show at Flamingo Land?
I wouldn’t say that I regret going to see the sea lion show at Flamingo Land. It reassured me to see that although they were in captivity, they were in clean and acceptable conditions. It was enjoyable and I didn’t see any suffering. This visit has also allowed me to research this issue more thorough and share through my blog – it is always my intention to raise awareness.
Would I go again? Probably! Mainly to ask more questions to the keepers to share on my blog! 😉 Would I go to a sea lion show outside of the UK? Maybe not, because I wouldn’t know if the conditions are regulated like they are in this country.
For example, many of these shows in the USA have been very money driven, and in some situations it has been recorded that animals have not received the health care that they have needed.
I would prefer for the sea lions to be in their natural environment in an ideal world. However, we don’t exactly live in an ideal world. I try not to get too emotional about single encounters like this, because I think that we have to get the balance right between protection and conservation, as well as respecting animals in their natural habitats. In some ways, it’s about trying to see the bigger picture.
If I had seen unsafe conditions or sick and suffering animals, this would, of course, be a different matter. Thankfully, I have not seen this in the UK. Sadly, I have seen this abroad.
Flamingo Land Education and Conservation Projects
I know that Flamingo Land offer a great deal of education to school groups, which I fully support. In addition, a proportion of the money made by Flamingo Land tickets knowing that some of the profits now go towards conservation projects in Tanzania (see the Udzungwa Forest Project). This makes me feel better, to know that a portion of the money goes towards a long term and sustainable conservation project.
If you feel very strongly and emotional about sea lion shows animals in captivity, maybe skip Flamingo Land. However, try to see the bigger picture in the preservation of sea lions and the conservation projects that are occurring as a result of these profits too. Do your research before you go (and don’t go in school holidays!!!).
Sea Lion Shows at Flamingo Land – For or Against?
I hope that you support me in sharing this information and giving a balanced view. I’m a realistic and fact sharing eco-conscious blogger. I believe in doing what’s best overall and giving people factual information to come to their own decision.
What’s your opinion of Flamingo Land in regards to the sea lions in particular? Are you supportive of Flamingo Land due to the conservation projects? Are you supportive of conservation of Sea Lions to protect the species? Or do you hate seeing animals outside of their natural habitat? Have you ever been to Flamingo Land and had a bad experience? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
You might also like to read about Dear Loro Parque – Why I’m choosing not to visit this Summer